In our role, we are fortunate to talk to everyone from startup founders to technical leaders at global organizations. We are all connected by a passion for understanding, building, and deploying technology to solve difficult problems.
But something hasn't been sitting well with our team recently. When we talk to startup founders, they have an outdated approach to building modern software. We are sure this recipe is being taught at accelerators and incubators across the nation, and it may be hard to separate the good advice from the bad.
As a startup, there is an expectation from users and investors that your product will leverage the latest technology. Startups also need to be very cost conscious initially, so their focus should be in building with technologies that provide the maximum amount of value at the lowest cost.
Most startups are still stuck in a "mobile first" or "iOS first" mindset: They want to build one dedicated mobile app after another. Each with its own product roadmap, development team, testing matrix, and overhead.
This may have been the best approach a few years ago – when the iPhone 5s was first released – but technology moves fast. So, let's take a step back and discuss why we are recommending more startups consider the power of the progressive web app.
What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?
More specifically, progressive web apps allow your webapp to be installed on a user's mobile device and function like a native application. Once installed, PWAs have a home screen icon just like any app downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
Today, PWAs have powerful capabilities once reserved for native applications, including: biometric authentication, push notifications, being able to work offline, automatic updates, and access to device features such as the camera.
And because PWAs are written with the tools of the web – HTML, CSS, and JS – they are responsive and work on any device type and screen size. For example, a single progressive web app would could be installed across iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air.
Most importantly, because PWAs allows users to install your web app on their mobile device, you no longer need to support 3 separate development roadmaps. Feature implementation can happen more quickly, enabling your startup to pivot faster and cheaper than before.
For more information about progressive web apps, please check out our article on The State of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in 2018.
How are PWAs Trending?
Progressive Web Apps are being accepted by the tech giants, including Microsoft and Google. Having pulled out of mobile operating systems, Microsoft needs a new way to attract developers to their ecosystems: computers (Windows), tablets (Surface), and video game consoles (Xbox).
Instead of convincing developers to build native apps, Microsoft is embracing PWAs. A single progressive web app could be installed on desktops, Surface tablets, iPhones, Android devices, and more. Furthermore, PWAs can request access to device functionality (e.g., camera, GPS), user resources (e.g., calendar, documents), and even integrate with the Cortana voice assistant.
Having coined the term in 2015, Google has been the most outspoken advocate of progressive web apps. For years now, Google has been moving towards unifying their platforms – with PWAs and also by allowing native Android apps to run on Chromebooks.
Further, large companies are dissatisfied with the rules and commission that application stores take. Most notably, Netflix has removed the ability to make in-app purchases from the Netflix iOS mobile app. A progressive web app would give these developers more control of the user experience, while also enable end-to-end payment and subscription management.
Unfortunately, Apple has been dragging their feet when it comes to PWAs. While you can download a progressive web app on iOS 12, there are certain functions that are still walled off, such as the ability to send push notifications or access user data (such as contacts).
Who Should Consider PWAs?
The short answer is everyone should evaluate progressive web apps. With that said, startups in particular should seriously consider PWAs as a way of quickly, and cost effectively, getting their product onto multiple platforms to reach the most users.
With the advent of PWAs, the equation has changed. You can now build a single app that works across multiple device types and operating systems.
In addition, we are on the brink of a device revolution: there are new devices and new device categories launching all the time. Building a native app for each scenario is no longer feasible. But with a PWA, as long as the device has a modern browser, your application is supported by default!
Progress web apps are particularly exciting because they allow businesses to build, launch, and support a suite of applications without requiring separate, isolated teams. In addition, feature development happens concurrently across all platforms rather than one-by-one.
The PWA revolution is continuing to gain momentum. In January 2019, Google released Chrome 72 for Android. This latest version of the Chrome browser enables PWA developers to have deeper access to system-level functions. For example, progressive web apps can now:
- Have a custom Home Screen Widget
- Work with App Shortcuts (long press of screen)
- Offer wear OS (watch) or Android Auto (car) companion apps
Your Startup's Core Competency
The biggest mistake you can make in the early days of your startup is investing in the wrong technical architecture. Selecting an outdated architecture is expensive, time-consuming, and can completely alter your trajectory.
For instance, the decision to "build an Android app" can lead to months of interviewing, hiring, and training dedicated Android resources. These engineers are often highly specialized, and expensive, and cannot work on your iOS app or contribute to your backend platform.
Instead of making large assumptions upfront, we urge you to take a step back. Focus on user experience, your product's core offerings, and the value you are bringing to market.
Your assumptions about technical architecture are crucial because they influence almost all aspects of your business: from product (your roadmap) and finance (your budgets) to human resources (your org chart) and marketing (your target audience).
For example, there is a huge difference between "We need to build an Android app, which means we need to build a dedicated Android team with 3 engineers" and "We would like our app to be available for Android users".
Given the importance of this decision, we like to ask startup founders questions around their product, market, desired outcomes, and budget. Perhaps the most important question we ask is:
What is your company's core competency?
Is your core competency to be on the bleeding-edge of iOS animations and interactivity? If so, then go for it. But if your goal is to launch soon, iterate on features, maintain a single codebase, or test demand, then you need to consider a progressive web app.
In particular, we suggest that a startup focuses the majority of its resource on developing a robust and scalable backend platform. This is where your real differentiation and intellectual property resides.
Technology is once again coming full circle.
The promise of early web browsers was the ability for developers to create once and deploy everywhere. Since the early 90s, there has been dramatic improvements in device types, internet speed, security protocols, open source standards, payment processing, and more.
However, in the late 2000s, we took a step back. The iOS versus Android war erupted and mobile app development became the sole focus. The corresponding boom in startups reinforced this approach and everyone zeroed in on building complex application architectures that required highly-specific development teams.
Currently, we are on the cusp of the transition back towards the web. Startups and enterprises alike are deploying PWAs at scale. Today, millions of users engage with progressive web apps from Instagram, Twitter, Uber, Starbucks, Pinterest, Forbes, and many more.
Progressive web apps are also future-proof solutions. Your PWA supports new operating systems, and entire product categories, out-of-the-box. More specifically, a PWA works with any modern browser, across computers, laptops, tablets, phones, cars, televisions, and more.
At Tragic Media, our team has 10+ years of experience building cutting-edge technology and few things have excited us like PWAs. We have successfully architected, built, and supported progressive web apps that drive real, measurable business results.
Contact us for a free consultation, before your software project becomes a tragedy.
Want to discuss your startup in detail? Reach out to us at [email protected] today so we can schedule a free consultation!
Looking for more information on PWAs? Keep an eye out for the Tragic Media Progressive Web App Webinar!